KUALA LUMPUR (April 7, 2010): Local authorities are being mobilised to work with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), NGOs and other groups to come up with an framework to assist refugees in the country.
The groups got together at a seminar held at the Malaysian Bar Council headquarters today to discuss action plans based on recommendations prepared by the Bar Council.
"The recommendations are to assist the creation of an administrative and legislative framework to deal with the refugees," said Datuk M. Ramachelvam, chairman of the Bar Council's Sub Committee on Migrant, Refugees and Immigration Affairs.
"We will be delivering it to the relevant ministries within the next couple of weeks."
Although Malaysia has a de facto policy based on respect for refugees, it has not ratified the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol and therefore has no specific guidelines on how to deal with the situation.
Petaling Jaya City Councillor Latheefa Koya said although Malaysia has a policy of cooperation with the UNHCR, refugees are considered illegal and live in constant fear of being detained.
Of the 82,400 registered refugees in Malaysia, 92% are from neighbouring Myanmar, with the rest from countries like Sri Lanka, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine. It is estimated that there are another 45,000 unregistered refugees in the country.
They have no legal rights and due to language barriers and the fear of being detained, have little access to basic needs like healthcare, education and employment.
The result is that most end up in cramped and or unsanitary living conditions and are exploited by criminals and unscrupulous employers.
Malaysia Representative for the UNHCR Alan Vernon said the seminar was a good platform for getting local authorities to network with NGOs and refugees to come up with practical solutions.
Members of the audience at the seminar offered various suggestions on how to deal with the refugee situation in the country.
Ampang MP Zuraida Kamaruddin spoke about efforts in her constituency to initiate dialogues between the police, immigration authorities and refugees.
"We found many of the refugees are genuine UNHCR card holders, and after living here for more than 30 years all they wanted was to be a productive part of the community," she said. -- theSun
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